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Wildlife of the Month - January 2021

Birds of Prey – the Red Kite

by Carol, Wildlife Working Group Member

Birds of prey have been worked by man for centuries to catch food and, it is also thought, used in battle. It is an inspiring sight watching these birds soar and glide, searching with their phenomenal eyesight to suddenly swoop with amazing accuracy and catch their prey.

In our beautiful corner of Suffolk, I have seen barn owls, kestrels, sparrowhawks, buzzards and my favourite, the red kite.

The red kite (scientific name: Milvus Milvus) is one of our most magnificent native bird of prey. At one time it was a commonplace sight in towns, until the 16th Century when they were classified as vermin by the UK Government and became persecuted almost to extinction. They were mistakenly thought to be hunters but, in fact, they are scavengers, dining mainly on carrion and only small prey.

Red kites became so rare that in 1903 the first Kite Commission was founded to help protect nesting sites as their eggs became increasingly sought after by egg collectors.

Since reintroduction programmes began across Britain in the 1990s with red kites from Sweden and then Germany, they have made a fantastic comeback gradually spreading throughout Britain. Their subsequent protected status in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981, further helped. Although, as with all birds of prey, they can still suffer from secondary poisoning by bait left out for rodents and collision with power cables.

I regularly see red kites whilst walking the fields in Barrow and I am always enthralled by their size and beauty. Easy to identify with their distinctive silhouette and ‘mewing’ call. They are large, about the size of a buzzard, but with arched, red wings that are tipped with black and have distinctive white patches underneath and a long, red/brown forked tail. They have a wingspan of 1.8m (6ft) and the average lifespan is ten years. According to the RSPB the oldest wild kite recorded was 26 years old!

They tend to stay in their breeding home range and can be seen all year round.

Photographs courtesy of Paul Johnson Phoenix Photography, Leeds

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